Written by: Joanne Lowe
Keeping harmony between children can be hard at the best of times. It can be difficult to make sure each child feels valued and to give them the attention they need and in a way which doesn’t create jealousies or rivalries. Siblings disagree and argue, they also bond and play together, but how do you care for a child with special needs while making sure their brothers and sisters don’t miss out? Some children who have a sibling with a disability report feeling that they never get to do their own thing or that they don’t get as much attention. So what can parents do to support both alongside each other?
Explain the disability
Make sure your child understands what disability their sibling has and what it means. For example if they have autism explain why their brother or sister may act differently, may bang toys together repetitively, may become anxious in crowds or may pinch or slap if they feel over whelmed. Explain that they are not being naughty, but that it is because of their disability.
Use language that your child can understand. Children under five may not fully understand the disability, but they will start to notice differences and may need some help accepting why their sibling may need more help. Older children may start to worry about their brother or sister, or even feel guilty that they don’t have a disability. Some can become overly helpful others may become disruptive to get more attention, but reaffirming why their needs are different can help.
As children reach adolescents they may feel embarrassed about their sibling as they try to fit in. Try to understand their reactions while explaining their sibling is part of their family, but that they are just different to them.
Be aware of their feelings
A lot of time and attention goes into looking after a child with special needs. This can lead to other children in the family feeling that their needs aren’t as important. Being aware of each child’s feelings may head off any misconceptions about how they are viewed within the family. Kindly reaffirming why their brother or sister needs that extra time or attention may help ease their worries. For example with some disabilities hospital appointments and visits to specialists become part of life and this takes up a lot of time. It can lead to other children being left at home for long spells, or not seeing one or both of their parents for some time. Explaining why you have been away from home and making a fuss of other children on your return can help dissolve any jealousies that may arise.
It’s not always essential to plan activities that include the whole family. If something is not suitable for a child with special needs make arrangements for child care so the other children can take part. On the flip side, don’t always exclude a child with special needs from family trips or activities because it may be harder to manage. They are part of that family unit and it’s important to set that example. Encouraging each child to follow their own interests can also give them a sense of achievement and show they are an individual. You can also let your child spend time with extended family members to make them feel special.
Children should know that it’s okay to talk about their feelings and to ask questions about how they feel or their sibling’s disability. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject and children shouldn’t be made to feel that they are bad or wrong for any negative feelings they may have. Talking can help them to understand and work through their emotions.
Take care of yourself
Being a parent to any child is challenging both emotionally and physically, but parents of children with special needs do not come with extra strength, patience or energy. Take time to look after yourself so that you can deal with the extra challenges you’ll face as a parent.